Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tax Money Going to Fund Not Radio, But NPR Executives

From Greg Easterbrook:
Defenders of NPR have noted the Washington main organization -- local stations are the jewels of the public radio crown -- receives only $2.4 million annually in federal grants. That's a small amount as these things go, so why doesn't NPR cover that sum with private donations and voluntarily end the taxpayer-funding contretemps?

Now it turns out the NPR president was paid $562,000 last year, and the year before that, NPR paid $2.4 million to its top two executives. So much of the federal tax money, derived by borrowing and handing the bill to our children, isn't funding newscasts or opera -- it's going into the pockets of NPR executives. Americans whose median income is about $50,000 are being taxed so that executives can live in luxury. This was offensive when AIG was the beneficiary, and it's offensive with NPR the beneficiary.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don't Blame the Caucus For Non Voters

According to the Census Bureau, there are 22,914 people in Eagle Mountain. Of those, 12,053 are adults. Of those adults, 8,179 are registered to vote, which makes for a slightly respectible 67.9%. However, in the recent election only 2,991 of registered Eagle Mountain residents actually voted. That breaks out to a 36.6% registerd voter turnout, but in reality only 24.8% of adults in Eagle Mountain bothered to vote. Which is pretty average for Utah, and for Utah County.

Utah's generally paltry voter turnout is a cause for concern. Many point to our caucus system for the low numbers. But I don't buy it. What's being missed is that there are non-caucus related issues on the ballot. Issues which directly affect every person living in a community.

As I wrote about earlier, Eagle Mountain voted on a bond to build an aquatic center. It was a hotly contested issue which caused turnout to town hall meetings and city council meetings over the last at least two years. It directly affects everyone living in the city limits, and hits the pocket book of every single property owner. It is completely outside of the caucus system, and is direct democracy in action. If the caucus haters are correct, it would bring voters to the polling location in droves.

Not only did the issue not bring out more voters, three hundred fewer people voted in the bond election than voted for the other caucus tainted offices.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Alpine School Board Elections

A few members of the Alpine School Board are up for reelection, including my representative, Donna Barnes. I will not be voting for Mrs. Barnes, and am deeply disappointed in the entire board. I feel they have grown to epitomize the "we know better than you, now sit down" attitude elected officials often adopt.

One experience I have had with them highlights this point. Recently a new elementary school was built in Eagle Mountain a little over a mile from my home. Prior to its construction my children attended a school which is literally across the street from our neighborhood. The kids walked to school together every day in big groups. Many parents volunteered in large part because it was so close. So when the new lines were drawn up and my neighborhood was being sent to the school over a mile away many of us protested. Parents attended meetings for months, came up with a viable alternative and presented our plan to the Board and its committee.

Eventually it came down to a final presentation at a Board meeting. Our group came in large numbers and had an impressive presentation complete with statistics and even traffic studies. It was one of the most impressive displays of grassroots involvement I've ever seen. Perhaps most impressive was that the presentation was based on sound argumentation and was devoid of needless anger or emotion. Which is an important point because of what happened next. Our position was far too commonsensical to be adopted, and we were voted down almost unanimously. One member even abstained from voting because it was just too hard of a decision.

That night I went home and penned an email which I sent to every member of the Board. Again, it was not a "Crazy Parent Being Senselessly Angry" email. Quite the contrary. But I did express my frustration at feeling like the decision was made months previous and all the work my neighbors had done to lobby their representatives on the School Board was pointless, that all of the information that had been gathered had been too easily dismissed. I received an email response from the Board president, who I assume was speaking for the Board as a whole, since it was the only response I got. And it was akin to being a kid who's parent tells them "because I said so, now go away." It in no way addressed anything from the presentation or from my email. I wanted some insight as to the decision making process, as nothing that was said at the Board meeting did so. Instead, I was told that if I was less emotional I would agree with the Board, that the decision makers are all professionals who have done this many times and if I weren't so blinded by emotion I would see it their way.

In effect, after a presentation full of data and checkable facts, I requested more detail as to what specifically overrode those arguments. And I was told I was much too emotional for that. Huh? Now I feel like the Board gave us a collective pat on the head and sent us on our way. What's ironic is that in their fear (I assume that's the explanation for their behavior) of dealing with angry parents, they have created angry parents.

This is not how elected officials should behave. Therefore, they should no longer be elected officials.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eagle Mountain Aquatic Center Bond

Next week Eagle Mountain City will have a $7 million bond on the ballot to build an aquatic center. The center will have a lap pool, a lazy river, concessions, party room and more. It will cost a $200k home an additional $70 a year in property tax. Commercial property of the same value will pay an additional $125.

The center has been a few years in the making, and has actually been pared down from a larger multipurpose recreation facility. Proponents argue that because we have so many children, our city needs a rec center like this one. They say it will attract business to the community as these unnamed business leaders won't take us seriously unless we have additional amenities to offer. What they don't explain is how higher business taxes will be enticing as well.

I am not in favor of this bond for a few reasons. One is the previously mentioned increase of business taxes. Another is the increase is personal taxes. Particularly at a time when housing values are falling yet our property tax bills are not. I will be voting no if for no other reason than that watching my neighbors struggle with job losses, decreasing pay and hours, and some even losing their homes trumps my desire for a cool lazy river to take the kids to in the summertime.

But another reason has lately reinforced my opinion that this bond is a bad idea. Eagle Mounatin is in the Alpine School district. Alpine passed a $300 million bond in 2006 which built and remodeled schools all over the district, including $65 million for a new high school and $32 million for a middle school, both of which Eagle Mountain students now attend. The $300 million has been spent, and the district is planning on putting another bond on the ballot next year. Included in the district's future spending plans are more schools in Eagle Mountain, specifically our own High School and Middle School. So I ask, when our city has $90 million worth of new schools to build (and this doesn't count additional elementary schools), is it wise to be throwing money at an outdoor pool? For me, this was the final nail in the coffin for the aquatic center. How on earth can anyone rationalize spending millions of dollars on a lazy river and lap pools when we have literally a hundred million dollars to spend in the next 18 months? I for one cannot.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Congress Set To Make History Again, And Again In A Bad Way

Last year President Obama tried to push through his brand of health care reform before Congress recessed in August. The rush backfired and proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for an already angry citizenry. Americans turned out in droves to congressional town hall meetings that August to express their displeasure. As Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal, members of Congress were caught flat footed by the response and were revealed for the unprincipled, elitist and uninformed blow-hards they have always been.

But perhaps more amazing is the fact that they passed their reforms anyway. It took them a while, and it looked dead on more than one occasion, even costing them "Teddy Kennedy's Senate Seat". But they did it. And they did it despite almost 60% of the country opposed to it.

As elected representatives, voting against what your constituency clearly wants is not the best strategy for reelection. And now its time to pay the piper. Democrats are likely to lose a significant number of seats this fall, perhaps even losing control of the House.

And what is the Democratic response to clear voter disapproval of their policies?

Ram through as much of their crap policies as they possibly can before they're forced out.
there have been signs in recent weeks that party leaders are planning an ambitious, lame-duck session to muscle through bills in December they don't want to defend before November. Retiring or defeated members of Congress would then be able to vote for sweeping legislation without any fear of voter retaliation. "I've got lots of things I want to do" in a lame duck, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W. Va.) told reporters in mid June.
This is truly despicable. And blatantly so. They started recess early this year because they don't want to face their constituents with more bad laws just before the election. But they clearly plan to pass every bad law in their play book when actually facing the voters isn't possible. What a horrible, political, tyrannical, disgusting thing to do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Of Hitler & Hubris

Over the years I've heard an argument stated over and over again that's meant to silence debate. The argument is that Nazis were conservatives - that they are examples of the far right. I've always dismissed this argument for the grenade lobbing it is, but the last few months I've been reading a history book called "For the Survival of Democracy" by Alonzo Hamby. Written in 2004, the book looks at the leaders who were swept aside and those that replaced them in the aftermath of the worldwide economic collapse of the early 1930s. Hamby discusses the leadership in Germany, Great Britain and the United States and the social context that each leadership group was working in.

As he writes of the Nazi party's rise, Hamby has this to say about their first real party platform:
The contest would be primarily a test of Nazi staying power. The party presented for the first time a comprehensive economic recovery program. It called for extensive state control of the economy, national self-sufficiency (autarky), the abandonment of the gold standard, new means of credit based upon the productive power of the nation, the nationalization of the banking system, and the development of a home market in which German agriculture and industry, protected from foreign competition, would produce goods to be consumed by workers paid fair wages. it proposed returning hundreds of thousands of urban workers to small farms on reclaimed marshland. The state would control prices and manage industrial expansion, favoring it in areas that needed enlargement, prohibiting it in those that already were overbuilt. A special income tax would finance a fund for creating employment. Farmers would receive discounted credit. A generous social insurance and old-age pension system would be maintained. All young men - no exceptions for "the educated or the propertied: - would be enrolled in compulsory labor battalions at once serving the state and dignifying manual labor.
On what planet does that platform resemble conservatism?

One example I've often heard is that in the run up to gaining power the Nazis often violently clashed with Communists. But in learning more about the context of those clashes, it's become clear that they were based more on a struggle for power than they were over opposing ideologies. The Nazis staged most of those riots for the express purpose of weakening the fledgling German democracy. It was about power, and power alone. Hitler would have sent out his brownshirts after any rival political party, regardless of ideology.

So while I've always dismissed the Nazi charge as nonsense, it's been interesting to study history and learn that not only is the charge nonsense, it's also factually inaccurate.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Representative Carl Wimmer's Abortion Bill

Here's the text of the original bill, and here's some Tribune reporting.

There is much about this bill to debate. Debates which could have brought about very interesting discussions and perhaps even greater understanding. However, instead of that happening, we were bombarded with FUD arguments like sending women to prison for falling down the stairs, or slipping on ice. Take this quote from Common
Statistics suggest that 15 to 20 per cent of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. "This creates a law that makes any pregnant woman who has a miscarriage potentially criminally liable for murder," said Missy Bird, director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Utah, part of the national organization that champions abortion rights.
For crying out loud, this is just stupid. It's nothing but scare tactics, and it's an insult to the intelligence of Utahans.

And that's what makes me the most angry. Instead of having a healthy and potentially mind opening discussion, I'm forced to read these lame articles filled with stupid arguments on my friends' facebook pages. These kinds of FUD arguments sound good in the papers and can be very effective at moving legislation, but they harm regular people and distort our water cooler conversations, not to mention feed the anti-Utah undercurrent present in our state.

So please, can we just talk like normal people once in a while?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

SB 150 - Holding Back Your 1st Grader

Senator Karen Morgan introduced SB 150 - Reading Requirements for Student Advancement. It "requires that students in first, second, and third grades read at or above grade level prior to advancing to the next grade, with certain exceptions."

The focus of SB150 is to force students, parents, and teachers to ensure students can read at their class level. The goal is not to hold them back a grade, it's to threaten it so that everyone involved takes reading more seriously. Which may sound great in theory, but I think there are a number of possible unintended consequences to this policy.

The fiscal note says that if students are kept back that would add another child to the system for another year, thereby increasing costs. Sen. Morgan said that 20% of students leaving third grade don't read at grade level. If even half of those are held back, that increases our student population by 10%. In a state where we already have a student overpopulation problem, with its attending cost issues and class size problems, this policy doesn't seem like a good idea.

I would much rather see our efforts going toward lowering class sizes in grades 1-3 because that has shown to have the greatest effect on student achievement. With smaller class sizes, students in those grades would not only increase their reading ability but would show improvement across the board.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Should Cities Fund Rec Centers?

I live in Eagle Mountain, which has about 20,000 residents. Last year around this time city officials started circulating a plan to build a rec center. The closest center to Eagle Mountain is in Lehi, about a 20 minute drive away. Having our own center has been a strong desire of many residents, and many elected officials, for some time. However, when the city's plan to finance one was made known last year, there was strong opposition based on economic issues. So strong, in fact, that the city put all plans on hold. I'm sure that it being an election year had nothing to do with that decision.

I attended some of last year's meetings regarding the proposed rec center. It was stated that no private enterprise would build a facility like those that cities build. The closest thing we would have would be a Gold's Gym type workout center. But anything with swimming facilities and climbing walls and senior citizen areas etc. would never be built without public funding. There is just no money to be made in that area, we were told.

Since then our pro-rec center mayor was reelected and we added a strong proponent of the center to the city council, so it comes as no surprise that the idea is anything but dead. However, what strikes me about this issue is that the economic concerns voiced by the public last year have not really gone away, and even if they had for most people, there will always be some who have economic problems. If it's unjust to impose higher taxes when everyone is feeling threatened by the economy, then isn't it unjust if even one homeowner feels threatened?

So it would seem that raising taxes to pay for a rec center hinges on the question of whether a rec center is necessary for the common good. In this vein, I've heard it compared to city parks. Parks are paid for and maintained by public funds - everyone is taxed for them and they consistently need public funding to remain solvent. No one seems to have any problem with city parks which are clearly recreational facilities, so why would there be opposition to an indoor recreation facility?

While that argument seems logical, I'm not sold. Racquetball courts and family swimming centers would be great. My family would certainly love it. But I remain unconvinced that it is something that falls within an acceptable use of tax revenue.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Did Lies Change Health Care Reform Debate?

That's the question many are in a rush to answer in the wake of the Democrats losing their 60th seat in the US Senate. It's not that the public doesn't want this reform, the reasoning goes, it's that Republicans lied about reform and those lies are what turned the tide.

In light of this, let's review the history of the health care reform debate, and take a look at the lies it produced.

-There are 46 million uninsured Americans
-Democrats only want a public option, not a single payer. And the public option won't ever lead to a single payer system
-You will get to keep your current insurance if you want it even after the reform is passed
-We have a free market health care system in the US, and that is what is to blame for rising costs
-Preventive care drastically reduces total health care costs
-There are no sweetheart deals with the drug company lobbyists
-It will only cost a trillion dollars
-All the deal making would be shown on C-Span
-There would be no tax on so-called "Cadillac Plans"

Democrats lost the health care reform debate for two reasons: 1) Their ideas don't work 2) They lied about their ideas not working

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Was the Supreme Court's Decision a Victory for Free Speech, Or Did It Do Damage?

I'm not sold either way just yet. Though I lean towards thinking that if the government had less influence over the economy, then business would have less interest in wasting money trying to buy off government.

But here's a few quotes from Fox News that I'd like feedback on:
On Thursday, the Court overruled that earlier case and also part of a 2003 case involving BCRA, finding the earlier anti-distortion rationale to be “unconvincing and insufficient” to justify government censorship of political speech. Instead, the Court noted that ordinary people often need to pool their money into an organization they support, to use those pooled funds to get their message out about the issues they care about when elections are approaching. Rather than drown out the little guy, this option allows groups, be they Citizens United, the National Rifle Association, or the Family Research Council, to be a megaphone for the little guy, informing the voters of what’s at stake.
If this argument holds water, then the Court's decision would be seen as a victory for free speech, no?

Here's another:
Suppose that a company or a union can't take out radio or television ads supporting a candidate. It still has other options: It can produce a critical movie, such as "Hillary: The Movie," or publish a critical book. Authors making the rounds of radio and television shows during their book tours can help provide information that supports one candidate over another.

Indeed, when President Obama's Deputy Solicitor General, Malcolm Stewart, first argued the case "Hillary: The Movie" before the Supreme Court last March, Justice Samuel Alito asked him if the government could prohibit companies from publishing books. Stewart said that was indeed possible. "That's pretty incredible," Alito responded, and then he pointed out that most book publishers are corporations.

"If [the book] has one name, one use of a candidate’s name, it could be covered?” Chief Justice John Roberts then asked. And Stewart replied: “That’s correct.” “It’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, so vote for X. The government could ban that?” Roberts asked. Again, Stewart said yes.
This makes it sound as though it's just another attempt to get rid of the Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters of the publishing world, who also just so happen to dominate the best seller lists. But perhaps more sinister is the realization that the law gives the government considerable power in determining what is "proper" political speech. And that's not something that either the Left or Right should be approving of.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Move On Tells Us the Magnitude of Scott Brown's Win

In the aftermath of Scott Brown beating Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts Senate race, pundits, both of the professional and the in-your-parent's-basement type, have been playing tug of war over what the election really means. Reading all these pundits simply shows that hindsight in this case seems to muddy rather than clear the waters. For that reason I went back to the archives and found this breathless email from, sent on January 8th, 11 days before the election, titled,
"Urgent: A Republican in Ted Kennedy's seat?"
Horror of all horrors! They said a Coakley loss would be "devastating", and that "health care could die, and the Republicans could block pretty much anything they want."

In order to avoid such a catastrophic outcome, Moveon invoked "progressive hero" Ted Kennedy's name seven times in the email. They quoted Kennedy's widow Vicki, who said, "My husband fought for healthcare reform for more than 40 years. Martha Coakley shares those critical beliefs."

Clearly Moveon saw this election as a referendum on health care. Clearly they thought that Massachusetts voters wouldn't dream of replacing a progressive health care reform icon with the very vote that could end the momentum of what is the closest the country has been to progressive reform in decades. Clearly, they were wrong.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Hymns

My two favorite Christmas hymns are Silent Night and O Holy Night.

The words to Silent Night were written in Austria in 1816 by a priest named Joseph Mohr. He wrote it as a poem, and took it with him when he was transferred to a village called Oberndorf the next year. On Christmas Eve 1818 he travelled to his friend Franz Gruber’s house in a nearby village and asked him to write a melody for his poem. That night the two of them sang Silent Night with a guitar accompaniment for Midnight Mass. From these humble beginnings came one of the most popular songs of all time.

O Holy Night was written when a French poet named Placide Cappeau was asked by a priest to write a poem for Christmas Mass. Cappeau was on a trip to Paris on December 3, 1847 when he pondered the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke chapter two. He pictured what it would be like if he had been there the night of the Savior’s birth and through that inspiration came the words to O Holy Night. Though only asked to write a poem, upon arriving in Paris he asked his friend Adolphe Adam to put it to music. As the song gained in popularity over the ensuing years, its author and composer both suffered through persecution and hardship. As with Silent Night, the authors of O Holy Night were of humble origins and hardly knew they had written what would become one of the world’s most beloved hymns.

To me, the stories behind my favorite Christmas carols perfectly represent the spirit of the season. Christmas has become a hugely popular holiday the world over, but it has its beginnings in a humble stable. It was hardly what one would expect of the birth of a King. Perhaps this is why I love Christmas music so much – it helps me to remember the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ, as well as the life He lived. It is a joyful and exciting event, yet it’s also a sacred and humbling one.

Monday, November 02, 2009

California: "Think of it as a forced, interest-free loan"

I'm an accountant. As such I've done tax returns in the past as part of my employment, and still do a few here and there each year. One of my biggest pet peeves is people having a large withholding balance at year end when they don't really need one. See, the way taxes work is that each paycheck your employer withholds paying you a certain amount and sends that amount to the federal and state government. The reason for this is so that the government has consistent cash flow throughout the year to pay its bills. At the end of the year and sometime before April 15 you figure out what your tax bill is, and then you subtract what you've already sent to the government. If the number is positive, then you have to pay more to make up the difference. If it's negative, then that means you've overpaid and you get money back. Overpayment means that you have lent the government money all year long, interest free. So even though you're excited to get a big tax return, you've actually lost money on the deal.

Well, the state of California has taken that scenario one step further.

Because California is so inept at budgeting, they've found themselves in serious red ink. They don't have enough cash to pay their bills. Usually when states find themselves in this situation, states like our very own, they either raise taxes or cut spending. But the geniuses out west are doing neither.

California is simply going to withhold 10% more money from its residents. It's not a tax increase, so they'll pay it back when you file your return next year. But between now and next spring Californians are unwillingly going to give their state a huge, $1.7 billion interest free loan.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sutherland Institute's Prosperity Forum: Utah's Budget

I attended the Sutherland forum on the state budget this afternoon. The panelists were Representative Rob Bigelow, Salt Lake Chamber president Lane Beattie, Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove, and former Governor Norm Bangerter.

Lane Beattie spoke first, stating that this is "one of the most difficult years in the history of Utah". He said the state had revenues of $5.3 billion in 2007, and has dropped a billion dollars to only $4.3 billion. Budget cuts need to be the "right cuts, right time, in the right place".

He said the state funded for growth in public education, but not in higher education. A situation he thinks is a mistake since higher ed has seen large increase in demand specifically because of the economic downturn. This year the Chamber expects a 12,000 student increase in higher education, and the chamber wants more funding. They advocate reinstating the sales tax on food, indexing the tax on motor fuel, taxing coal, and rescinding other tax cuts and exemptions if even for a short period of time.

Next up was Dr. Martell Menlove, who said officially public education had a 2% budget reduction last year, but because of 15,000 enrollment growth the effective cut amounted to 7 1/2%. Without those cuts 500 additional teachers would have been hired. He proposed that public education received level funding this year.

Finally, Norm Bangerter spoke. He recognized that there are polls showing current support for higher taxes to fund education. He then told the story of when he was governor and had the same situation; polls in favor of higher taxes. So he raised taxes for education, and consequently saw his approval rating drop from 75% to 41% in just two weeks. I spoke with him about this for a few moments after the forum, and he again remarked that there is at times a disconnect with how Utahans answer polls and how they actually vote. I found this interesting coming on the heals of my recent education funding post. Governor Bangerter said he supports reinstating the sales tax on food, but also said, "I don't think we can take a general tax increase."

At the end of the panelist remarks there was a Q&A session. The most interesting part of which was when, on the heels of a questionor being told that every department should expect a lower budget, someone asked if government has a moral responsibility to needy or disabled citizens. Representative Bigelow answered that yes there is a responsibility, but the state only has a certain amount of money, and the budget must be balanced. This led to Dee Rowland, who I recognized from her time as a panelist for Sutherland's SB81 forum, to say that she saw the need for higher revenue (read: higher taxes) and thinks that Utahans would support this as well. She then asked what she and others could do to help the Legislature drum up support for raising taxes. Representative Bigelow's response was interesting. He said that he often hears people say they would be willing to pay more taxes to fund X program. The problem is that the support is not broad based. Everyone has certain things they would like to fund, but it's really an issue of balance, and balancing the needs of different groups. These budgeting issues are really about shifting the impact from one group to another. As for convincing the public to support higher taxes, Rep Bigelow didn't seem too optimistic. He said the public generally drives itself and that even the media with all its influence can't really drive it. At this point Governor Bangerter interjected and said that the polls may say there's support for higher taxes, but that he doesn't believe it was true.

Also of note is that after the forum was over, the lady who asked the question about government's moral responsibility to provide for people spoke with Gov Bangerter about that topic. Part of his response was that often those who talk about wanting the government to provide assistance don't provide that assistance themselves, despite being very well off. He said we currently have a president who made a million dollars last year and gave about 1% of it to charity.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Utah's Medicaid Doesn't Check for Fraud. On Unrelated Note, Medicare Losing $90 Billion A Year to Fraud

I recently discovered that our state Medicaid program is incredibly inept at catching fraud. Why is this important, you ask? Because 60 Minutes just did a piece about how Medicare is being defrauded out of $90 billion a year because they too are inept at catching it.

But yeah, a single payer system would be totally cool.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Heather Graham Starring as Public Option - She Should Be Running By Herself

Because that's what the public option is all about.

More Absurd Lies in Health Care Discussion

I recently wrote about an interview NPR conducted with the author of a new book which shows that Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public in order to get Medicare passed. In the words of the author,
"One of the things he did was suppress the costs...if the true cost of Medicare had been known, if Johnson hadn't basically hidden them, the program would never have passed."
I tied this propensity for lying to the various lies and misrepresentations coming from Congress and the White House in the ongoing health care reform debate. This of course was dismissed as "full of logical absurdities".

In light of that discussion I was interested to read this editorial reprimanding the White House for using legislative tricks, in other words lying, to suppress the true cost of the latest health care reform bill being bandied about. It seems that in order to get under their self-imposed cost threshold, Congress has simply moved $247 billion in costs to a different bill which wouldn't go into effect for a year. It's the very definition of a shell game. This one designed to trick deficit conscious people into supporting this reform bill.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Utah's Medicaid Has Major Issues

In August Utah's Legislative Auditor General released the findings of its audit of the state's Medicaid program. What it found was a program which spends $1.7 billion a year, but has almost no oversight of where it's going.

Reading through the 100 page report, I was struck by the systemic failure exhibited by Medicaid. There is an appalling lack of oversight in basically every area the auditors looked at. From prior authorizations, to provider screening and enrollment, to fraud recovery, and internal policing - it all failed miserably. Each of these areas are critical points in keeping costs down and avoiding fraud and waste, yet the guidelines are either non-existent or so lazily enforced as to be worth less than the paper they're printed on.

For clarification, Medicaid is health insurance for low income people administered by the state of Utah, but funded with both state and federal money. Utah kicks in about $500 million of the total $1.7 billion spent.

There were a couple of things in the audit that stuck out at me. First is that 95% of that $1.7 billion is not reviewed for fraud at all. Organizationally, Medicaid is set up to ignore whether those payments to dentists, doctors, and hospitals are legit or not. There could be double billing, useless tests or exams, or out and out fraud, an no one will ever find out. Which in itself is concerning, but then it's coupled with the fact that Medicaid doesn't review its providers (the doctors, dentists, and hospitals) either. Anyone who wants to be a part of the Medicaid program is accepted, even if they have a history of fraud. So we accept any possible fraudster out there, and then we don't monitor their billings at all. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

And disaster might be what we're getting. The auditors cite a national study which says that on average the low end of fraudulent cases is 3% of total billings. The auditors stress this is a conservative estimate. Well, Utah Medicaid finds and gets money back on about 1.7% of its total spending. But even that low number is misleading because most of that returned money comes not through our efforts, but because private insurance companies find out that Medicaid had paid for a service that was actually the private company's responsibility, and instead of pocketing the savings they fix the problem and pay for it themselves. So Medicaid on its own actually only finds and recovers a fraction of 1% of fraud. Again, this speaks to the total lack of oversight and due diligence by the program.

The most glaring deficiency in the audit is that, again because of poor guidelines and organization, Medicaid itself is never audited. There are no independent internal audits being conducted to ensure everything is on the up and up. So not only does Medicaid not audit providers or look for fraud, but no one is auditing Medicaid either.

The reason all of this is important really comes into focus through a specific, real life example written of in the audit. A provider bills medicaid for $370,000. Medicaid has to determine if the services were actually necessary before they pay for them, so they request medical history documentation. The requested documents never come, so Medicaid doesn't pay. The provider starts an appeal process so they can get their money, but even then they file the appeal late and still don't send the medical documents. Finally, they drop the appeal and go straight to the Medicaid director. Up to this point everything has been handled ok, despite the persistent lateness of the provider. Even going to the director is somewhat supported by written guidelines. At this point the director should have gotten the medical documents, reviewed them, and then made a decision. Instead, he unilaterally gave the provider $370,000 without even reviewing the case. Only after the auditors found this example two years later did Medicaid finally get the appropriate documentation. Medicaid's director's reason for handing over $370,000 without even reviewing the case? He said sometimes that's necessary in order to "maintain relationships with providers."

I can imagine the stress this audit must have created for everyone in the Medicaid office. As a controller of a large company, I get audited every year, and it's a stressful time. I have to justify every decision I've made over the course of the year, and provide documentation as part of the justification. If you're organized and prepared, audits can be relatively simple. If not, they can be a major source of heartburn.

This report is possibly the worst conceivable outcome of the audit. The only way it could have been worse is if the auditors caught Medicaid management stealing funds. The audit shows medicaid fits the stereotype of an inefficient, poorly managed, wasteful government program.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Is Gonna Be The Easiest Money I've Ever Made!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Call For Reducing Class Sizes

The Deseret News ran another editorial advocating reducing Utah's class sizes. They reiterated the statistics showing Utah as last in per pupil spending, as well as polls showing most Utahans believe class sizes are too large and education spending is too small. Quoting Benjamin Franklin, the News writes,
"The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance."
What the Deseret News seems to have forgotten though is that the state spent over $700 million over a decade for the sole purpose of reducing class sizes, and netted a whole two teachers for the effort.

Two years ago the state conducted an audit of their class size reduction (CSR) program. It was this audit that revealed the two net teacher gain despite hundreds of millions of dollars. I wrote about this audit here, here, and here.

The reason for such a poor return on investment is that the number of children entering school increased by far more than was expected. The problem with the Deseret News's argument about cost is that the child increase is expected to continue - so much so that the state will be fortunate just to keep the unacceptable class sizes we have now, let alone reduce them. In fact, the Utah Taxpayers Association put numbers to the traditional class size goal of 15 students, and found it would cost almost $5 billion to reach it.

Reducing class sizes is a worthy goal, but it's important to understand the reality behind the numbers. Editorial boards like the News would do well to remember the lessons learned from audits like the one conducted just two years ago, and use those lessons to shape their policy proclamations.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Civility in Politics

I attended the Sutherland Institute's blogger briefing on civility this past Tuesday. Rob Miller and Dave Hansen formed the panel, and a small group of bloggers were present to ask questions. Most of those who attended have written about the event, including Connor, Frank, David, and Trenton (?) from the blog Victory in Progress.

My notes closely resemble theirs; things can tend to the uncivil, this has been going on for a long time in politics, and it's really up to the individual to decide to remain civil. There is some interesting discussion of the value of being nice/civil vs. being direct and honest despite the risk to decorum. My two cents in that discussion is that I think it's possible to be honest and civil at the same time. But even then, you cannot control what others may take offense.

However, there is one point that has been bouncing around my head since the briefing. It's an idea that first came to mind when I read CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters two years ago. A particular chapter so resonated with me that I wanted to save the idea; so I blogged about it. More accurately, I typed a paragraph from the book which I felt summed up the thesis of the chapter quite well. I reproduce it here:
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.
How this short paragraph sums up what often passes for dialogue - both in mass media as well as in the blogosphere! It may not be the best way, but I don't mind so much a fervent, even angry exchange of ideas - so long as ideas are exchanged. However, what seems to happen more often than not is what CS Lewis describes as flippancy. People have been "trained to talk as if (fill in the blank) is funny." There's no actual joke being told, it's just assumed to have already been made. The more a person uses this tactic, the more immune they become to anything resembling a dialogue, the more every other opposing viewpoint appears ridiculous to them.

For instance, when then Vice President Al Gore was running for president, a joke arose that to this day continues to dog him. In an interview with CNN before he had even secured the Democratic Party's nomination VP Gore was asked,
Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley? What do you have to bring to this that he doesn't necessarily bring to this process?
Al Gore's answer, taken as a whole, was pretty generic. A sort of, 'look at my record, I've pushed for important things before, and I'll do the same as president' type of answer that went on for a couple of paragraphs. But there was one short phrase in his answer that demonstrates the power of flippancy,
I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
We all know how that phrase turned out. A politician describing his view that he had been at the forefront of legislation which allowed the internet to completely change the world we live in somehow got twisted into a decade-long (and counting) running joke. To many, the "Al Gore thinks he invented the internet" is a knee jerk response to anything the former VP says - even if that has nothing to do with current events. It's a slam inserted into any discussion of what Gore is doing or saying. Those that do so have safely armored themselves against actual dialogue.

This is one example of many. The characterization of the TEA parties and Town Hall goers as mobs is another. It is generally how political viewpoints are dismissed, and how political campaigns are waged. Making your opponent an object of ridicule is far easier, and unfortunately more successful, than debating ideas. In my opinion, this is what truly infects our political culture, and what leads to incivility. It is an easy game to get caught up in, and it is up to each individual to see past the flippancy to the real dialogue begging to be held.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

2009 Democrats Need to Learn Lessons of 1960s Democrats: Lie

NPR recently interviewed James Morone, who co-authored a book entitled, "The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office." The interview centered on how President Lyndon Johnson pushed Medicare through Congress until its ultimate passage. Mr. Morone and Renee Montagne, who interviewed him for NPR, both assume great current public support for Medicare, and this assumption is what allows them to reveal a remarkable fact about how Medicare was sold to the public all those years ago. Morone obtained tapes of phone conversations President Johnson had with members of Congress as he guided Medicare through the political process, including one such conversation with noted public health care advocate Ted Kennedy,
"Johnson maneuvered every step of the way, getting this bill through Congress. And one of the things he did - and this is a little dicey in today's climate. One of the things he did was suppress the costs. So this young kid gets elected from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, in 1962. And Johnson is explaining to him how you get a health bill through. And what he tells him is don't let them get the cost projected too far out, because it'll scare other people.

Pres. JOHNSON: A health program yesterday runs 300 million, but the fools had to go to projecting it down the road five or six years. And when you project the first year, it runs 900 million. Now I don't know whether I would approve 900 million the second year or not. I might approve 450 or 500. But the first thing Dick Russell comes running in, saying my God, you've got a billion dollar program for next year on health, therefore I'm against any of it now. Do you follow me?

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Yes, right.

Mr. MORONE: We believe after looking at the evidence - my co-author and I -that if the true cost of Medicare had been known, if Johnson hadn't basically hidden them, the program would never have passed. America's second-most beloved program would never have happened if we had had genuine cost estimates. "
Now, the title of this post is written somewhat in jest. Democrats don't really need to learn the lessons from their 60's counterparts. They're well on their way to upping the ante.

Putting aside for the moment many of the lies and misrepresentations regarding health care reform we've seen in the last couple of months (from a public option not leading to single payer, or that you'll get to keep your current insurance if you want to, to the President's fact-bending health care speech to Congress), we can focus on and find parallels to President Johnson's cost concealing Medicare push with what President Obama has done with the costs of the proposals we've seen so far.

The original bill making waves in Congress had a Congressional Budget Office price tag of over $1 trillion. Having learned the lessons of Medicare, Democrats couldn't allow that number to be taken seriously, so they went about trying to discredit the CBO's numbers,

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"it's always been a source, yes I will say frustration, for many of us in Congress that the CBO will always give you the worst case scenario"

Senator Tom Harkin:

"The way CBO scores some things sometimes doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- I mean, real-life sense,"

Senator Chris Dodd:

"One of the things that's disappointing about CBO -- and frustrating -- is all the work…done on prevention" that the CBO doesn’t factor in"

The President also voiced his "concern" over CBO numbers, saying the CBO doesn't give him credit for all the savings included in the bill which would offset many of the costs. What he neglects to mention is that the CBO did in fact account for those measures, and found they wouldn't save money at all. In fact, they likely will add to the costs. But no matter, these statements from Democratic stalwarts aren't meant to be used in factual debates; rather, their purpose is to cast enough doubt on the CBO numbers so that they can more readily ignore the independent group's cost projections.

Cost projections which could very well be on the low end. By law, CBO projections only go out ten years. So other groups have projected beyond that horizon and found significantly higher costs. Which is not surprising, considering recent studies showing government consistently underestimates the true costs of programs. So consistently, in fact, that it's apparent this underestimation is not done by accident. No, it would seem politicians have all learned President Johnson's lesson very well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nephi's Psalm

Scripture study yesterday got me thinking, so I put some thoughts to paper. Here's what came out:

One of the most important, yet often forgotten, doctrines of the Gospel is found in 2 Nephi 4:15-35. These verses are sometimes called “Nephi’s Psalm”. Nephi’s father Lehi has just passed away, and Nephi is alone as the family’s prophetic leader. Perhaps weighed down by this responsibility, coupled with the passing of his father, Nephi writes of his sadness at not living up to the blessings he has received. He recounts how he and his family have been led through the wilderness to a promised land, choice above all other lands. He has seen angels, been carried away to the tops of mountains, and had many marvelous visions. Yet he still falls prey to temptation. Indeed, in verse 27 he writes,

“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?”

There are a couple of important lessons to be gleaned from the verses to this point. First, it can be somewhat heartening to know that a person as righteous and close to God as Nephi is can still feel inadequate at times. There is a measure of comfort to be taken from the knowledge that even a prophet can feel overwhelmed by their weaknesses. Additionally, these verses teach us that the closer we get to righteousness, the more our own failings, however small they may be, become apparent to us.

The seminal lesson to be learned, though, is how Nephi deals with these feelings of failure.

He writes,

“And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support.

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.”

All of us, every one, can relate to Nephi’s feelings of depression and failure. We strive to do what’s right. We raise families, attend church meetings, fulfill our callings and reach out to those around us. It can seem overwhelming at times. Often, we fail to do what we know we ought. But do not let that recognition of our own weakness allow us to be led by Satan down a path of depression and discouragement. Those moments of failure are some of the most important moments of our lives. They offer us the opportunity to look heavenward, to know in whom we have trusted, and tie us ever closer to our Father in Heaven.

Too often we, like Nephi, have the light of truth shine on our small imperfections and we feel like we’ll never make it, that we’ll never be good enough. But that is not the message of the Gospel! The “good news” is that, through the Atonement, we can triumph over our sins. This is a marvelous promise. In the words of Ammon, “there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we.” And why should we rejoice? The Savior taught us why, when he appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple and said,

“Behold, your sins are forgiven you; you are clean before me; therefore, lift up your heads and rejoice."

May our voices, like Nephi’s, forever ascend up to Him. For if they do, we will never despair.

Friday, August 21, 2009

How You Can Make Millions of Dollars And Go Bankrupt

One of the principles of accounting is to match revenue and expenses to the period they are incurred. That becomes problematic when you are working on a long term project like building a house. You might start the house in August but not finish and sell it until February. Under normal circumstances, you would show your profit in February. However, you've been working on it, and incurring costs on it, for the seven months previous. Shouldn't your income statement take that into account?

The percentage of completion accounting method allows you to do so. When you start building that house in August you also start recognizing some of the profit. Assuming you build at a steady pace, you would finish 12.5% of the house per month. Accordingly, you would recognize 12.5% of the projected cost and revenue each month.

But here's the problem. This only works if you are certain to sell the building when it's done, ie. you have a contract in place. Commercial construction works this way, but the housing market only partially so. When you contract with a builder to start a home, you generally have to put in some earnest money. This assures the builder you won't walk away in the middle of construction and leave them with an unsold property. However, and this happened a lot during the recently ended housing boom, the earnest amount can be quite low. So low that it isn't much of a barrier to backing out of the contract.

If the builder was using the percentage of completion method in this case, then not only have they lost the sale, but they've already recognized a portion of the expected profit from that house. Couple that with the rapid decline in housing prices we've just experienced, and you can see how a builder can see profits on one income statement and nothing but red ink on the next.

This is a lesson on reading financial statements. I have talked to troubled business owners who say they were profitable and don't fully understand what happened. They didn't understand what accounting system they were using, and so didn't understand the risks involved.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cheneyed By A Guy Named Barack Obama

Those crazy right wing extremists are at it again, calling president Obama a fascist:

From the Huffington Post:
A memo obtained by the Huffington Post confirms that the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby secretly agreed to precisely the sort of wide-ranging deal that both parties have been denying over the past week.

The memo, which according to a knowledgeable health care lobbyist was prepared by a person directly involved in the negotiations, lists exactly what the White House gave up, and what it got in return.

Critics on Capitol Hill and online responded with outrage at the reports that Obama had gone behind their backs and sold the reform movement short. Furthermore, the deal seemed to be a betrayal of several promises made by then-Sen. Obama during the presidential campaign, among them that he would use the power of government to drive down the costs of drugs to Medicare and that negotiations would be conducted in the open.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"A Picnic That Changed The Course of History"

From the AP:
Twenty years ago Wednesday, members of Hungary's budding opposition organized a picnic at the border with Austria to press for greater political freedom and promote friendship with their Western neighbors.

Once the initial group got through hundreds more East Germans joined them. Still vivid in Bella's mind was the reactions of the Germans, including many young people and families with small children, once they were on the other side.

"They embraced, they kissed, they cried and laughed in their joy. Some sat down right across the border, others had to be stopped by the Austrian guards because they kept running and didn't believe they were in Austria," Bella said. "It was in incredible experience for them."
Hungary, it turns out, has an interesting history.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Love That 'Regular' People Are Getting Involved...Oh, And Larry O'Donnell Is Still A Shmuck

This video annoys me for a couple of reasons.

First, for Larry O'Donnell to cluck cluck about having a rational debate without yelling and screaming is incredibly ironic considering his meltdown about Mitt Romney's mormonism. You can watch it here. But really, that's indicative of pretty much everyone who has cluck clucked about the tone and tenor of the folks attending the town hall meetings across the country; it wasn't too long ago they were whining about their own free speech rights while burning US soldiers in effigy.

Second, O'Donnell is oozing fake niceness and understanding here. What a shmuck. He set up this woman and set out to make her look bad. This was not journalism, or debate. This was an orchestrated hit job. It's not often I watch these pundit shows, and this clip reminded me why. In fact, this clip typifies exactly why people like Katy Abram aren't involved in politics. No one's actually interested in solving things. It's all just a sick game to them.

Which brings me to my final point. I struggled watching this clip because I could see right away where it was headed. I wished I could have been in her place, as I'm fairly certain I have already heard and answered every inane question O'Donnell was prepared to ask. And that's the point. Too many people have left to others the task of being informed. Too many people shy away from political conversation. But now, many of these people are waking up, getting involved, going to town hall meetings. They know they don't like what's going on, but they don't know how to articulate it. Because these are their first baby steps into political conversation they've never heard someone like O'Donnell try to argue that Medicare is great so stop complaining about government health care.

This is the reason I enjoy blogging so much. I have come into contact with people all over this country from every political stripe. I have heard arguments for and against just about every issue, and I've had to defend my own positions time and again. I've become known as 'the political one' among my friends and family, and am always ready to join a political conversation wherever it arises. But those occur far too infrequently.

We need more of this. We need more political conversations - at home, at work, with friends and family. With more people sharing and hearing, the real issues will come into focus. People will be less able to be dismissed as a 'mob', less able to be sneered at in contempt like Larry O'Donnell did in this video. Oh, the O'Donnells of the world will still sneer, but if you answer from a place of knowledge and experience, they'll be revealed for the empty windbags they really are.

Health Care Lies That Are Deceiving the Public

I've read in a few places how the lies being spread in the media and elsewhere about Health Care reform are distorting the public's perception of the issue and making it difficult to have a rational debate. So I've put together a quick list of lies I've come across:

1. There are 46 million uninsured Americans.

See here and here for a serious debunking of this dubious statistic.

2. These plans are only for a "Public Option", not for single payer

President Obama has been quite eloquent in explaining away this myth.

3. You will get to keep your current insurance even if this reform bill is passed

This is one of those sorta, kinda technically true statements. Sure, there's nothing in the bill that I'm aware of that forces you to drop your current insurance plan. But in reality, millions of Americans who get their insurance through their work will find their employers dropping their plans. So it's not really truthful to say you'll get to keep your current plan if you so choose.

4. We need more government involvement because our current free market system is failing.

Hard to say we've got a free market system when government programs Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP pay for 47% of health care in this country.

5. The reform bill includes measures for preventive care, which will drastically reduce overall health care costs.

Not according to the Congressional Budget Office, which quotes a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine which says,
"Sweeping statements about the cost-saving potential of prevention ... are overreaching. Studies have concluded that preventing illness can in some cases save money but in other cases can add to health care costs. For example, screening costs will exceed the savings from avoided treatment in cases in which only a very small fraction of the population would have become ill in the absence of preventive measures. Preventive measures that do not save money may or may not represent cost-effective care (i.e., good value for the resources expended). Whether any preventive measure saves money or is a reasonable investment despite adding to costs depends entirely on the particular intervention and the specific population in question.

Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not."
6. The initial cost projections are at $1 Trillion over the first ten years, but don't worry, the president assures us it will be paid for and won't add to the deficit.

Hmmmm...where have we heard that before?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Most Open Government Ever" Won't Answer A Simple Question

In response to the very vocal opposition to the health care reform plans being railroaded through Congress, the White House recently asked US citizens to send them any "fishy" (their word) information they may have gotten in emails and the like.

In an interview conducted on Fox News, White House spokesperson Bill Burton was asked what was being done with the email addresses and other information being sent to them per their request. Mr. Burton was extremely evasive, until finally the question was put this way:
"In an environment when you have the Speaker of the House referring to these people as swastika wearing, where you have another democrat calling them Nazis, where you have the president calling complaints about health care "smears" and saying he's going to fight them and then the White House comes out and says "send us the emails", those who are behind the emails may feel a little reluctant to engage in such speech in the future. And that is the complaint, not just cable news has about it, Bill Burton, but the ACLU has come out and said "we've got a serious problem with that."
Here's the entire interview:

This really is an example of when evading a question makes it an even bigger deal than if you had simply answered it. Perhaps the White House strategy is to not justify with a response what they feel are silly questions, but when you're directly asked a question four or five times and you flail around like Mr. Burton did, you're just raising more doubts.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dueling Health Care Videos

The first video shows clips of President Obama and others explaining how a public option is the first step to getting rid of private health care. The second is a quick follow up from the White House's youtube page showing President Obama promising that if you like your current doctor and insurance, his plan won't take that away from you. What it doesn't explain are his past statements as shown in the first video, other than to say they were taken out of context, nor does it explain that while the government technically won't "force" you to use the public option, it is making it so that your employer just won't offer it to you anymore.


More Context

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jon Stewart Foretells the Future of Health Care

"If it [health care] is paid for by a surtax on the wealthy -- and I am wealthy -- can I then stop poor people from smoking and eating ice cream. 'Cause I see them on the subway and I want to say 'Hey! Dude. You're costing me money.'"

Jon Stewart

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Quick Fix That Wasn't

As someone asked me recently, "if it was sold as a quick fix then why did it not spend all the money up front?" Indeed.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Second Stimulus to First: "You Suck"

From Phil Levy comes a wonderful take on what the calls for a second stimulus reveals about the first stimulus.
The extent of spending in 2011 and beyond under the initial package can have one of two interpretations. Either this was the excess that spilled over after all sincere attempts at near-term stimulus were exhausted, or there was a serious misallocation of resources in the initial plan.

And this is exactly the logical problem with a second stimulus. If we accept the premise that the Democrats did the best that could be done and exhausted all stimulative spending possibilities for 2009 and 2010 on their first try, then there’s nothing left to be done in a second stimulus. Additional spending would just pour uselessly into the out-years. If there are still good near-term options available to be funded by a second stimulus, that just speaks to the poor design of the initial stimulus package that passed them over in favor of ineffectual spending years later.

Neither of those possibilities argues for opening up the public coffers for hundreds of billions of dollars more.
All those calls for rushing through the stimulus six months ago were based on the argument that the economy was in terrible shape right now and needed this boost in order to rebound. Unfortunately, the great majority of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent was not intended to be spent right now.

So once again we find the economy doing poorly and consequently most are accepting the fact that the first stimulus didn't work in the way it was sold to the public. So once again talk of a stimulus is brewing. If it passes, we will find again that it has little to do with positively effecting the economy right now.

More Fun With Debt

Those right wing extremists at the Congressional Budget Office are at it again, what with their fear mongering over the national debt:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ladies & Gentlemen, Your Utah Democratic Party

Sarah Palin announced her resignation as governor of Alaska recently. The specifics of her reasons for resigning are sketchy, though level headed observers intimate it's likely because she tired of the attacks on her family coupled with the time and money lost defending against frivolous lawsuits.

Of course, Utah's left leaning blogosphere punditry was quick to chime in with their commentary. Two of the most read Democratic blogs in the state were also the most...predictible.

"she’s sounds like a whore in church."

"she’ll run for Princess of America"

You stay classy now.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

It seems that despite backgrounds hailing from Princeton, Harvard, MIT and Yale, in the end, bloggers are bloggers.
On the issue of tone, I again think I understand Paul's point of view. He likely believes that civility is overrated. He seems to think that in the blogosphere, and perhaps in the public debate more generally, you score points simply by insulting your intellectual adversaries. Sadly, I am afraid he may be right.
As always, Greg Mankiw's posts are timely.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Golden Age of Baseball

ESPN columnist Bill Simmons writes that the golden era of baseball was the five year span of 1988-1992. That just so happens to coincide with my introduction to the sport. The era began with me as a ten year old just beginning to scour and memorize the backs of baseball cards. I finally got old enough to stay up late and watch World Series games. I loved my Oakland A's - Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker, Carney Lansford and Walt Weiss. And of course a pitching staff of perennial 20 game winner Dave Stewart along with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and Bob Welch, who was awarded the 1990 Cy Young by winning an improbable 27 games. Those A's went to three straight World Series from 1988-1990, winning in 1989 against the rival Giants.

But the real treat, and perhaps the moment that truly sucked me in as a baseball fan, was the 1991 World Series. Both the Twins and the Braves had finished in last place the year before, but now they faced off with the winner becoming the first worst to first team in baseball. The Braves had just escaped Barry Bonds's Pittsburgh Pirates in what was an amazing series in its own right. But that was merely the appetizer to the real Series. The Braves had young Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, and John Smoltz. In what was the greatest game I've ever watched, in what many have said was the greatest World Series ever, game seven had Smoltz pitching 9 shutout innings only to be bested by Jack Morris's 10 scoreless. With game seven ending 1-0 in 10 innings, the Series had 3 extra inning games, and 5 one run decisions. The home team won every time, only the second time that had ever happened. Almost every game went down to the wire, and pitching duels were the norm. To this day I prefer a close, well pitched game to a high scoring one.

As this era ended, the steroid induced home run era began. Sadly, two main players from my beloved A's, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, were heavily involved in ushering in the steroid era. I never quite regained the same passion for baseball or even baseball card collecting after that. The game had changed. 1991's pitching duel was replaced by 1993's slug fest between the Blue Jays and Phillies. And the home runs never really stopped for another decade and a half. Only now are things beginning to come back to normalcy in the game.

It's nice to hearken back and remember those early 90's years as a golden era for baseball. Unfortunately it was followed by the era of strikes and steroids. As my son approaches an age where we can sit and watch a game together, my hope is that baseball will be able to clean up the game in time to start another golden era.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Are All Trickle Down Economists Now

A few years ago I watched a Denzel Washington movie called Deja Vu. Aside from being a pretty solid movie, it was also set and filmed in New Orleans. Filming actually began before the 2005 hurricanes, but instead of finding another locale to finish shooting, the movie's producers went back to New Orleans as quickly as they could. Here's how Denzel Washington explained it,
“It was important to me that we stuck it out, and returned to New Orleans to continue filming as soon as we could. Three months after the water receded, we were filming in the 9th Ward (the area of the city most devastated by the flooding) and we did that intentionally, to show the people that big projects like ours were not going to abandon them when they needed us the most. Think about a big movie production, the amount of people employed and all the others services that depend on it, from catering to hotels or what have you.
Think about that statement for a moment. In effect, Washington is saying that all that money being spent, and earned, by huge corporate movie studios trickles down to help the local economy. And New Orleans has embraced this strategy. Major movie and television projects have gone from 9 in 2005 to a record of 21 in 2008. Much of this increase can be traced to sizable tax credits the state has given to these production companies. The state believes that by cutting taxes for movie producers they can lure business to Louisiana and New Orleans and through this "all boats will rise". For instance, in an article on the television show K-Ville, which was filmed and set in New Orleans, city officials talked about the economic impact that this show and others were having,
“It takes eight days to film an episode,” she said. “Over that eight days a little more than a million dollars is pumped into the local economy.”

For New Orleans, show business is serious business. Several theatrical films have shot in the city this year, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Entertainment projects have generated more than $100 million for the city in 2007.
And it's not just New Orleans attracting business through tax cuts. According to the Wall Street Journal, 40 states have similar tax strategies to lure Hollywood. One of those forty is Utah. All of these states argue for the tax cuts because bringing business to their state will be a big boost to their economy. The strategy is that the economy as a whole will increase by more than what it cost to bring in business.

The inverse is also true. Business, when faced with higher taxes, leaves to find a better deal somewhere else. For instance, facing a large budget deficit, New York floated the idea of canceling their movie tax credit. Alec Baldwin, from the TV show 30 Rock, said,
"I'm telling you right now," Mr. Baldwin declared, "if these tax breaks are not reinstated into the budget, film production in this town is going to collapse, and television is going to collapse and it's all going to go to California."
New York caved and gave the movie industry a new tax deal.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time

Mere Cristianity: Life-Force Philosophy

In chapter four of Mere Christianity we are told that since the beginning there have been two views of the world,; the Materialist view, and the Religious view. However, in a note at the end of the chapter, CS Lewis explains that there is actually an "In-between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution." The description of this philosophy follows:
People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on his planet 'evolved' from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the 'striving' or 'purposiveness' of a Life-Force. When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force they mean something with a mind or not. If they do, then 'a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection' is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious. If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind 'strives' or has 'purposes'? This seems to me fatal to their view. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a Right Wing Extremist

Reverend Wright recently has come under scrutiny for remarks he made to a reporter about the president of the United States being controlled by "them Jews". Referring to President Obama, he told reporter David Squires that,
"them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office."
These words are eerily similar to those spoken by another Republican extremist recently,
"Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media."
Obviously, all Jew haters are right winger extremists who pose a danger to our country. Hopefully the Department of Homeland Security has Reverend Wright on their right wing extremist watch list so they can prevent him from doing serious harm.